Freedom of movement? By Pete Cross

While a row rages about expanding European borders, citizens still face restrictions on their movements within the UK finds Pete Cross –

There has been much speculation in the British media lately (with varying degrees of vitriol) about the impact of Bulgarian and Roumanian immigration as work restrictions were lifted for these countries on January 1st. Some of this debate has involved the concept of ‘freedom of movement’ as part of the grand European project.

We all have our views on this issue but let’s not forget an ongoing issue of freedom of movement that is much closer to home, between Local Authority not national borders. I refer of course to that blight of our social care system, Ordinary Residence.

The state, thankfully, does not seek to intervene as to where I choose to live in the county. However I am a non-disabled citizen. The situation would be different if I needed a support package from local government.

The lack of any meaningful legislation on how and when funding responsibility should shift between local authorities in the event a person needing care chooses to move seems to me to be totally unforgivable. Indeed, VODG (Voluntary Organisation of Disabled Groups) in their excellent 2013 publication on this issue subtitled Ordinary Residence as an ‘extraordinary mess’, demonstrating how this is a significant human rights issue.

Less say I have Autism and live in residential care funded by local authority ‘A’ (and within their borders). I have increased in independence to the extent that through person centred planning I now wish to move to supported living in a town in local authority ‘B’. Simple right? Not so. I potentially face months of delay while cash strapped ‘A’ and ‘B’ argue out responsibility as to where I am “Ordinarily Resident” (probably legally). I will wait to be ‘re-assessed’. My capacity to make the move might be questioned. My advocates and family carers will likely face a bureaucratic nightmare. The organisations directly providing my support will be frustrated.

An absence of legislation (with local authorities relying on guidance and toothless protocols) has thus created a shameful game of human chess where nobody wins.

I have seen the negative impact of this upon individuals with support needs and carers (before we even get to the significant taxpayer funded process costs – it is seldom in the public internet for statutory agencies to “get legal” on one another). It has not been unknown for providers to themselves cover the individual’s support costs while the wrangling continues. In purely financial terms let’s also remember that people of working age especially often move through a support pathway because their independence has increased and thus support costs can reduce. Yet the empowerment and efficiencies thus created by good provision often go untapped while the Ordinary Residence battle plays out. I suspect these delays have become worse in recent years as local authority purse strings have tightened – and, therefore, people with the highest support needs and costs (such as my organisation supports) are likely to face the most drawn out processes.

The Care Bill currently working its way through parliament seeks to put an end to this unholy mess in making authority ‘B’ (in the above example) financially responsible from day 1 of the move regardless of if they have yet undertaken their own assessment of need. However this draft legislation stops well short of true portability of funding and I expect will be a missed opportunity. Especially worrying is the clause that states authority ‘B’ must be “satisfied that the adult’s intention is genuine” (in moving areas). Especially for people with Autism of a complex learning disability this could lead to increased inter-agency disputes on the issue of mental capacity. A further unresolved issue will be movement between countries within the UK as the bill only covers England.

As providers and professionals in the social care field we have a duty to speak out when individuals we support face unfair discrimination – and I believe that for some, Ordinary Residence has had exactly this impact. The forthcoming legal framework is to be welcomed in potentially minimising delays for the disabled person, rightfully prioritising their needs as opposed to agency agendas. However I expect the costly and unhelpful disputes between local authorities that Ordinary Residence can cause are unlikely to become a thing of the past.

Pete Cross is Head of Strategy with Autism Care UK, a national provider of support to adults. Views expressed are his own. Details of Autism Care UK can be found at http://www.atismcareuk.com and on Twitter @autismcareuk

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